In Honor of Greg Lucero – May 18, 1936 to May 13 2016: Nearly 80 Great Years
Sadly, I’ve been using this blog space mainly to share bad news. This has been a tough year in the world of musicians with the loss of so many creators and performers of artistic and cultural treasures. On May 13 (Friday the 13th, no less), a more important and dear treasure was lost, my father, Greg Lucero. The loss is especially difficult as he had just pulled himself out of very dire health straits that began last December and was well on his way to recovery. He had been home recovering very well since he got out of the hospital in late February and was gaining weight, becoming more active in many ways, including lots of walking, emailing, iPadding and even facebooking. This all came to a shocking stop on this very sad Friday afternoon. Even sadder was that he was just five days away from his 80th birthday.
So who was Greg? Well I firmly believe that the ultimate manifestation of someone who has passed away is the family they form and the children they bring into the world. I don’t want to speak for myself, so I’ll speak of the others. First of all, he found a wonderful, feisty German, Heide, who is strong-willed, stubborn and lives by her own principles. She’s also an amazing cook, which was why he was gaining weight in his final months. A firm believer in education, she helped Greg get through college at UCLA and graduate school. This provided the foundation for raising my sister and me to be successful, independent adults. I believe that parents have succeeded when creating independent, self-reliant, free-thinking children, and I can confidently say that he was successful on this front. As Stephanie and I bring into adulthood the next generation of Lucero’s we are starting to see the fruits of the labor from the foundation that was laid in the Lucero household as we were growing up. Greg’s strong partnership with Heide and their focus on education, art (music) and sports has been passed on to our children. Our own children are compassionate and grieving as deeply as the adults as they absorb the enormity of Greg’s loss.
So how did Greg live his life? What did he do? What was important to him? He was born in Walsenburg Colorado to George and Caroline Lucero. At an early age (5), he moved to Long Beach. His parents actually went to Long Beach a year before him. A year later Greg’s grandmother came out with him to rejoin the family. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the address, so they wandered through the streets and eventually found his parents in a grocery store. The beach was his playground, but this didn’t last for long. Greg left home and started working as an apprentice at a military base in China Lake when he was 17 to provide income to his family (he had four siblings – Marj (who sadly passed away 3 days prior to him), Glen, Mickey and Teri. His father, George worked in the shipyards in Long Beach. I learned an interesting story from my father a few years ago. One of George’s distinguishing features was that he was missing a part of one of his fingers (his index finger). As it turns out he “accidentally” got it stuck in a machine and as a result didn’t qualify for the military and was able to take care of his family instead of going to World War II.
I would say there are two things that Greg brought to our family. The first is brains and the second is the Lucero history. On the brains front, he knew from the get-go that he didn’t want to follow his father into the life of the shipyards and laboring with his hands. He wanted to labor with his brain and finished school in spite of working at such an early age. When he was summoned into the military he was a math teacher at the military base in Germany where he met Heide. This was a great way to stay out of the mess in Vietnam but also a great way to lay down the foundation for his college education at UCLA where he studied business and information systems (while Heide birthed myself and Stephanie). He was actually at the vanguard of technology at the time, and, when he graduated joined a small company called IBM as a systems analyst. This began a long career serving the “big irons” of mainframe computing. I remember we used to have computer punch cards laying around the house that we used as scrap paper. I never really knew what these were until I took my first BASIC computer class at school.
After a few IT jobs in the LA area Greg moved the family to Seattle for a few years where I finished junior high and high school, and then the final big chapter was the move to San Diego where he had another ten years of his career at General Dynamics and some consulting. Stephanie and I had entered adulthood by then, but many of our friends and family knew Greg and Heide during this era, and their deep love for San Diego and La Jolla. Many of you have had fond memories of visiting Pavlov in San Diego arriving by trains, planes, bikes and all sorts of modes of transportation.
I mentioned before that the second thing that Greg brought to the family was the Lucero history. This has been a recent phenomenon that we have discovered together over the past few years. As most of you know, Karen’s side of the family is Jewish and our kids have been raised Jewish (although I’m a practicing atheist). A few years ago, our son, Josh, did a report on his family history. In his research he investigated the Lucero story which benignly alleged that the King of Spain had sent the Lucero’s to be the founders of Santa Fe New Mexico. Of course, the allegory of royalty and gilded heritage was a rouse for a much more interesting and dark story. The Lucero’s had been banished from Spain during the inquisition and been forced to convert to Catholicism (conversos). In fact the Lucero’s were “Crypto-Jews” who had been secretly harboring their Jewish identity and, in a recent email from his cousin Eric (who, sadly, also passed earlier this year), confirmed that this has been known (or at least suspected) for a long time within the family. This explains why Maneschevitz was served at our holiday meals among other things. Apparently some of the old Lucero tomb-stones even have stars of David on them. Greg and I have had fun on this topic over the last year or so, as we’ve unearthed more and more of the story through our respective investigations.
As this is a music blog at would be unacceptable to not talk about Greg and music. There’s actually quite a bit to say on this topic. In fact, there’s actually a third thing that Greg has brought to the family and that is musical talent. While Greg couldn’t carry a tune, his Uncle Jasper on his mom’s side was a famous trumpet player in the 40’s touring with a big band all over the country. This was (arguably) passed on to me, as well all of my kids who each have their own musical gifts. Greg had an interesting and eclectic taste in music. As in all good things, much of this was not appreciated until later in life. His favorite artist was Neil Diamond. It has taken me a long time to warm up to Neil, but he is an amazing songwriter whose songs have durability and a timelessness to them. In addition, he’s an amazing live performer who knows how to entertain an audience - definitely one of the funnest shows I’ve been to (ask Tom Schaeffer). Also, I remember a cassette that was in Greg’s car. It had all sorts of classics on it that I didn’t appreciate until later in life (believe it or not, other than this cassette, I was actually not exposed to rock music until I was in high school). These included Aretha Franklin (“Think”), Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lot of Love”), Ray Charles (“Rainy Night in Georgia”) and Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young (“Ohio”)). I’m sure we listened to that tape 1000 times and was heartbroken when it eventually broke. Last but not least, he was a fan of all that I did musically. The FM Collective CD was always in the CD player at Pavlov and he was always an incredible and enthusiastic fan and follower of those involved in my musical endeavors (teachers, collaborators, band-mates). Beyond the thousands of dollars in piano lessons, he appreciated everything I have done musically.
This is such a shock that it’s still sinking in to all of the loved ones around us (and thanks to all of you for your support). I do appreciate the Jewish custom of breaking glass at the wedding as a symbol of life being bittersweet. So to focus on the sweet, my parting thought it as follows: Greg’s recent illness nearly took him to his deathbed in December and he came back with a vengeance. He was a tough fighter and battled against odds and too many doctor’s opinions. This experience brought us closer together, and I was able to see and appreciate the man that was my father, like a supernova before he went off into the ether. This closeness makes me miss him more but also was a gift that both he and I shared in the last months of his life. Better to go out with a bang than to slowly fade away like an ember.
Bonus Tracks – a few favorite memories:
1972 Munich Olympics: Greg and I went to the Summer Olympics in Germany. While I stayed with my relatives in Ludwigsburg and didn’t actually go to the Olympics it was a great trip with my father in spite of the cloud cast by the Palestinian terrorist incident that marred the Olympics.
Bar Mitzvahs: Greg and Heide attended Josh and Jordan’s Bar Mitzvahs and I enjoyed how much fun both of them had at them. They embraced the Jewish culture and were completely present in those special occasions.
Eastern Airlines Airline Binge: During the late 70’s Eastern Airlines had a program where travellers could fly as often as you wanted anywhere they flew for two weeks. Think all-you-can eat buffet for airline tickets. Greg and Heide took complete advantage of this and we saw a slew of cities in two weeks. I saw places I had never seen, including New Orleans, Mexico City, Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula (Merida) where I distinctly remember climbing up a massive Mayan ruin. (Also, FWIW - the Eastern Airlines brand has re-emerged as one of the first airlines to fly to Cuba)
1964 Beatles Concert in Seattle: I wasn’t even around for this. For some reason, Greg was in Seattle in 1964 when the Beatle came through and went to the show. That’s just pretty damn cool which is why it’s on the list!
Graduation from Cal: My graduation from Cal was a great event as many of my friends came down from Washington and my family came up from San Diego (kind of wedding like!). We had dinners, parties and just a good ole time (I remember Mike Lydon there bobbing for sodas. I’m pretty sure Greg was doing the same!)
50th Anniversary Celebration: This was a great celebration because all of our California friends joined this, along with my family who came down from Seattle. Our dear friends Nadine, Bev and Marge were among the guests and we told many stories (that are mentioned above). I’m sure there are many more if anyone wants to add them to this post.
Trip to Kona: This was a great trip as we had an amazing VRBO house on the beach and saw all of the sites in Kona which are wonderful, active volcanoes and all. It was my family along with Greg and Heide. Everyone was still very active and Sydney ran into her friend Zander Fries, so we got to spend some time with Ed and Kathy Fries.
Mannheim Steamroller at Christmas: This was always a Christmas tradition along with Egg Nogs (all before we opened our presents on Christmas Eve – yes we opened our presents on Christmas Eve!)
Fishing on the Pier Every Saturday: When we were in elementary school, Greg used to take Stephanie and me to the pier every Saturday morning. First we went to Winchell’s to get donuts and then we went to the Redondo Beach pier to fish with this strange contraption that was used as a fishing rod (it was actually not a rod). I think we caught fish but never ate them and they were all extremely small.
Saturday night card games in Lakewood: When we were in elementary school we’d go to Lakewood (where my Granny and Gramps lived). There was always a poker game going on. Stephanie and I, of course, did not partake, but we did hang out with our aunts and cousins (Jeff, Franck, Christie and Tracy)
West Coast Driving Trip: We took the largest road trip of our youth and hit all of the big monuments along the way. This included the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Yellowstone. In addition we saw a bunch of our relatives in Colorado including Eric, Flossie and Carmen and all of their respective progeny. This was all in the back of our orange Pinto, and I’m sure Stephanie and I drove Greg and Heide crazy as we were fighting non-stop. I also remember a few times we almost ran out of gas and had to coast down the big mountains into the gas station (with the engine off!). None-the-less we never ran out of gas, so luck and good karma was clearly on our side!